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How the “Small Gap” Creates More Clients for Your Consulting Firm

People are most likely to act when what they want is within reach. You can leverage that bias to win more clients for your consulting firm.

Motivation is a funny thing. You think to yourself, “Self, this is the year my consulting firm is going to put millions of dollars into my pocket. Also, I’m going to exercise and diet until I look like that svelte YouTuber.”

And, for a moment, you’re inspired; motivated to set aside the delicious plate of brownies, sweep the crumbs off your lap and leap into action.

You experience a surge of vim, vigor and excited anticipation.

It passes quickly. The gulf between your current reality and your desired end state crushes your motivation like a 10-ton brick of chocolate—appealing at first glance, but the sheer immensity of it overwhelms your impetus to take action.

Your consulting firm’s prospective clients feel the same thing, but with decidedly less cacao sensibility. Their problems and aspirations constantly threaten to overwhelm them.

When a prospect talks with your consulting firm, they’re admitting that they may not be able to tackle a problem they’re facing or a dream they’re trying to realize. However, talking with your consulting firm is a different kettle of potatoes than engaging you for a project.

The leap from pondering to paying only happens when your prospect believes they’re in a narrow, Goldilocks zone of feasibility.

If an issue seems easy to address, your prospect will tackle it internally. If the problem appears overwhelmingly difficult, they’ll set it aside in favor of other, more easily accomplished priorities that deliver the same value.

Your consulting firm operates in the world of the Small Gap, where a client’s challenge can’t quite be addressed using internal resources.

Therefore, in your consulting firm’s conversations with prospective clients, strive to create the perception that the your client is facing a Small Gap that your consulting firm is extremely qualified to close.

The sense you want to impart is, “You’re almost there! You’re so close. With just a little bit of help (from us), you can achieve your dreams.”

Consulting firms that try to magnify the size of their prospect’s gap, perhaps out of fear that the client might not see the need for a consultant at all, often diminish their opportunity to win an engagement.

Emphasizing a client’s inability to achieve their goals can trigger delays. The prospect decides that perhaps they should investigate more, possibly approach the issue differently or interview more consulting firms.

If that’s the case, then what should you do when the gap between a prospect’s current reality and their desired state is, legitimately, gimongous, and they’re light years away from closing the chasm on their own?

In those situations, identify the Small Gap. What’s the next step on the way to Nirvana that’s achievable with a little bit of help.

When you position the next success as being within reach, you boost your prospective client’s motivation to hire you; i.e., you increase Want.

And linking that next, achievable-with-help success action to your prospect’s ultimate dream increases your consulting prospect’s perception of Value.

Have you found you’re able to close projects more easily when there’s a Small Gap?

  1. Barry Witonsky
    January 5, 2022 at 10:37 am Reply

    As an owner of a firm sub $1M, I agree that projects close more easily when there’s a small gap. I have lost jobs to larger firms when the client perceives he or she has a large gap. This concept is also good to help identify the right jobs for this firm. Thank you for the phrase “You’re almost there! You’re so close. With just a little bit of help (from us), you can achieve your dreams.” – that’s my take away from this.

    • David A. Fields
      January 5, 2022 at 12:38 pm Reply

      That’s a good take away, Barry! Yes, as a small firm it’s definitely easier to win projects perceived as small gaps. The “we want to boil the ocean” projects are for global firms–and let the big firms have those big, unlikely-to-succeed projects!

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Barry!

  2. TDW
    January 5, 2022 at 11:32 am Reply

    David, one of the reasons I admire your work so much is its ability to express something we didn’t realize we knew–and when writing makes you realize something you didn’t know you knew, that’s when the knowledge sticks. A rare gift, and I’m thankful for your efforts.

    My latest project describes the Small Gap to a “T.” Not only is this useful for closing, I’m finding it useful as a reminder or touchstone to keep thinking about during the project.

    • David A. Fields
      January 5, 2022 at 12:41 pm Reply

      Congrats on winning that project, Troy! You’re right, the idea of the Small Gap helps us identify great opportunities and likely projects. Thanks for highlighting that point. (Also, thank you for your kind words about the articles.)

  3. Gabrielle
    January 5, 2022 at 9:23 pm Reply

    Spot on with this, David! It is the perfect sweet spot perspective for identifying the best opportunities (as well as helping those sincerely who have a much longer journey ahead of them for a win-win approach). You DO have a unique ability (as TDW pointed out) to really perceive how to connect with clients in the best way possible, giving us an ‘almost unfair advantage’ in following your work! THANK YOU!

    • David A. Fields
      January 6, 2022 at 4:22 am Reply

      Gabrielle, your “unfair advantage” is being willing to implement best practices, try approaches that may initially feel uncomfortable, and relentlessly stay Right-Side Up! Good ideas and enthusiastic implementation form an unbeatable partnership.

      I very much appreciate your overall feedback and your thoughts on the Small Gap concept, Gabrielle.

  4. Ruth
    January 11, 2022 at 12:27 am Reply

    I had this happen just last week but this time I was the buyer. I was looking to hire a biz coach (ahem, yes we should talk, David!) for a fairly narrowly scoped issue. the Biz coach came back to me with a written proposal for a top to bottom engagement and I got REALLY overwhelmed. Some of it I have well in hand. Some of it I should do but maybe not now. So now i’m hesitating and procrastinating and it feels hard. I was totally in that Goldilocks zone but now I’m sitting looking at a HUMONGOUS bowl of porridge that I don’t want to eat! And so then I think “I’ll make the damn bowl myself!” But then I remember the last time I tried to make porridge it didn’t turn out so well.

    • David A. Fields
      January 11, 2022 at 7:22 am Reply

      Thank you for the buyer’s perspective, Ruth! That’s incredibly value and instructive. Many consultants get caught up in selling what they want to sell and in pushing for a big project that they think their client needs, regardless of what the client wants. That’s a mistake, and you’ve provided an excellent window into the client’s mind.

      Plus, of course, you’ve given my team and me a mystery to solve: why would any readers of our content who wants a coach or advisor not call us? (FYI, it’s easy to reach out to

      I’m very grateful you shared your experience, Ruth, and hope you’re able to resolve your challenge quickly and positively.

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